Flu season is here in full force with states across the country are experiencing widespread activity. In fact, some hospitals in states like California have been overwhelmed with patients experiencing flu-like symptoms.
Here in Massachusetts, flu activity is also ticking up in recent weeks. In particular, the Northeast part of the state is seeing a significant increase in cases of influenza-like illnesses.
Medical experts often use the Australian flu season — which begins and ends before ours here in the US —as a predictor of what’s in store for us. The Australian flu season can reveal what strains of the virus might be most prevalent and give us an idea of the number of cases we might see. It was a bad year for Australia, with more than 215,000 lab-confirmed cases of the virus and over 500 deaths resulting from the infection.
So how you can you protect you and your family this flu season?
1. Get the vaccine.
The flu vaccine primes your immune system so it can quickly identify and attack the various flu strains that are in the air. It can greatly reduce your chances of getting the flu, or reduce the severity of the symptoms if you do catch it.
2. Stop the spread of germs.
Germs can spread quickly in winter as people tend to congregate together in indoor spaces. That’s why it’s important to take extra precautions like practicing good hand hygiene, staying home when you are sick and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.
“The humidity changes and viruses tend to like low humidity, so it’s really ample opportunity to contract infectious illnesses, such as the cold or flu,” said Mark Gendreau, Chief Medical Officer of Beverly and Addison Gilbert Hospitals and an emergency medicine physician.
One of the most important things you can do to keep yourself healthy, Gendreau explained, is to keep your hands away from your face. The nose, mouth and eyes are entry points for germs and, once bacteria and viruses get in, they set up shop and spread.
In fact, Gendreau said about 80 percent of infectious illnesses are transmitted by your hands.
“You’re minding your own business, walking at the mall and you touch an ATM, and you bring this contaminated surface into your body,” he said. “We touch our face about 200 times a day, so if your hands are contaminated with a germ, there’s a good chance you’ll introduce it into your body.”
3. Take antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.
If you do become sick with the flu, antiviral drugs can help make your illness milder and reduce the amount of time you are sick. Antivirals are especially important for people at high-risk of developing serious complications from the flu. Antivirals works best if taken within two days of becoming sick, so if you are experiencing symptoms like fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue, you may want to contact your doctor to see if an antiviral is an option for you.